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It's Count Day! Here's how the day makes or breaks school funding in Michigan

The Count from Sesame Street.
World Bank Photo Collection
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
The Count and a student.

Today marks the first "Count Day" of the school year in Michigan. The second count day will happen on February 8.  

Count days are designated days when Michigan's schools take attendance to determine the number of students they serve. A blend of the attendance numbers will determine the school district's budget.

Count days are required under the State School Aid Act. On these two days of the year (the first Wednesday of October,  and the second Wednesday of February) public schools tally up the students attending school that day. Those numbers are submitted to the state, and each district will get around $7,500 for each student they have.

Ninety percent of that per-student money is accounted for by today's October count. Ten percent of it is accounted for by the February count. 

Because of its importance to a district's budget, some emphasize that students attend count day.

If students aren't in attendance, there are three ways for them to be counted:

  • The student has an excused absence and attends within 30 days following count day.
  • The student has an unexcused absence and attends within 10 days following count day.
  • The student is suspended and attends within 45 days following count day.

Some districts offer incentives to parents and kids.
Shawn D. Lewis from The Detroit News writes about how the Detroit school district encourages attendance on count day:

Parents are invited to free breakfast and lunch with their students in all grades, a pizza party will be held later for classes with 100 percent attendance in grades K-8, and there will be a $50 gift card drawing for high school students who attend all classes.

So, how does Michigan's mechanism for receiving state funding compare to other states?

According to a 2012 policy brief by the Center for Evaluation & Education Policy at Indiana University, Michigan is one of nine states participating in "multiple count dates":

Two or more counts done during the school or calendar year, with one occurring in the fall and the second occurring in the winter or spring.

The report cites 10 states using a single count date.

Seven states utilize something called "Average Daily Attendance," which is a count that averages attendance numbers taken throughout all or most of the school year instead of on one specific day, however it does not include absent students.

Fourteen states utilize "Average Daily Membership," which is similar to Average Daily Attendance except it does include absent students. 

The report notes that Michigan has been using the multiple "count day" method since 1994:

It was put in place after proposal A passed and changed how schools are funded in the state:

"Originally, the mechanism was designed to ease the transition of school districts with declining enrollments to lower funding levels, especially since school districts have no option to raise additional funding through their localities."

The New York Times called Michigan's change in how schools are funded “the nation’s most dramatic shift in a century in the way public schools are financed.”

Read more about that here.

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